‘Dungeons & Dragons’ Arrives At The Digital Age

It’s been over 40 years since Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson first brought the Dungeons & Dragons pen-and-paper, role-playing game into the world, which would go on to influence pop culture, spark controversy and eventually inspire video games. The IP was acquired by Wizards of the Coast in 1997 and it remains a cornerstone of “geek” entertainment around the world, with gameplay sessions broadcast on Twitch.

Adam Bradford, senior product manager at Curse

The game has gone through several rule changes in its extensive history, and despite efforts by dedicated fans, it’s been slow to move past its pen-and-paper roots to enter the digital age. That’s when Curse stepped in.

The gaming-site network partnered with Wizards of the Coast to launch D&D Beyond in July, a website and platform that fully digitizes all the classic role-playing game’s rules, modules and tools. There, players can read the books, socialize, create characters and spells and develop campaigns. Basic features are free, with expanded content available for purchase individually or accessible via subscription.

“D&D Beyond is a Dungeons & Dragons destination, with an official digital toolset for the fifth edition rules and original content focused on telling the story of D&D,” Adam Bradford, Curse’s senior product manager, told AListDaily.

Bradford said that the gaming platform started as an internal passion project when he joined the company last year, and it coincided with the company’s plan to expand from video games into other types of gaming. Being a longtime fan of D&D, Bradford eventually started a campaign in the office and the project took on a life of its own. Curse then approached Wizards of the Coast with a proof of concept and a 30-second trailer, and the publisher, recognizing the demand for digital tools, quickly jumped on board.

“We’ve gotten off to a solid start so far by partnering closely with Wizards of the Coast in broadcasting the message through their official channels and relying on the organic reach of our early adopters,” said Bradford. “Going forward, awareness will spread through the rising popularity of D&D streaming and many of those popular gaming groups using D&D Beyond during their sessions. We also have plans to support organized play with the Adventurer’s League at conventions and events in 2018.”

Although some pen-and-paper purists might not take to the idea of using digital tools, the platform has worked to significantly increase engagement with the classic franchise and bring on new players.

“Our early data indicates engagement has increased,” said Bradford. “D&D Beyond is a major boon for new players, and new players are coming to D&D in surprisingly high numbers. It’s there to ease them into the game.”

Bradford also said that players now understand the value of using D&D Beyond at the table to enhance the gameplay experience and make gameplay management easier. The digital tools help prevent the disruptive practice of having to stop the game to check a rule so that players can dedicate themselves to telling immersive stories.

Although D&D Beyond is still a relatively new platform, Bradford says that plans are already underway to expand it.

“We have an extensive roadmap of features, beginning with character builder improvements, a mobile app, additional homebrew options and moving to Twitch stream integration, encounter/ monster building and combat tracking further down the road,” he said. “There are literally thousands of things that we plan to work on to improve the value of the toolset over time.”

Bradford also explained the ongoing attraction of pen-and-paper games when there are so many fantasy-themed video games available, some directly tied to Dungeons & Dragons.

“I love video games, and my first role-playing game experience was The Legend of Zelda when I was five,” said Bradford. “That said, no matter how ‘open’ a video game claims to be, you’ll still eventually hit the edge of the map or feel limited in some other way . . . The most compelling thing about Dungeons & Dragons for me is enjoying structured make-believe with friends. Technology is at its best when it enhances human interaction, not when it overshadows it. If digital tools can make that better without removing that interaction, they succeed. Striking that balance is a priority for D&D Beyond going forward.”

Dungeons & Dragons has been around for 43 years, and Bradford shared his thoughts about how the franchise continues to engage players to perhaps keep it around for 40 more.

Dungeons & Dragons succeeds because it taps into our innate need as humans to tell stories,” said Bradford. “We all want to be part of a story—great movies, books and other entertainment can take us alongside a story, but rarely do we actually feel like a part of it. D&D is a game where we become the main characters in an epic story, and it’s hard to beat that.

Patrón Takes A Shot At AR Marketing

Patrón was the first spirit company to explore virtual reality a few years ago with its Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift experience. Now the company marks another first, jumping into the augmented reality space.

The Patrón Experience takes users to a virtual world at the Hacienda Patrón in Jalisco, Mexico, the private distillery where the Patrón tequila is produced and bottled. The ARKit created app is available now on Apple devices and is in development on ARCore for Android devices.

Adrian Parker, vice president of marketing at Patrón, told AListDaily the tequila company uses new technology to allow the brand to adapt to the latest trends.

“VR was our first foray into really blending branded storytelling with cutting-edge technology,” Parker explained. “VR allowed us to change how we educate consumers about cocktails.”

Since launching its Hacienda VR Experience, Parker said it’s become a core part of the company’s marketing. The brand has over 200 VR headsets that its sales team uses in meetings with everyone from distributors to restaurant owners to bartenders. They also have over 30,000 Google Cardboards across the world that consumers can use with their phones to explore the VR experience. And in addition to the English and Spanish versions of the Google and Apple apps, it’s also available on YouTube 360.

“We’ve gotten two-plus years of shelf life out of that one VR piece,” Parker said. “We have to think more like content strategists and have a real plan of how to support this type of storytelling. We want to own the story and technology independent of the software and hardware.”

Parker said Patrón will continue to take a mobile-first approach with both VR and AR. He said that 70 percent of all VR activity happens in the mobile space, and people are spending four-to-seven minutes on average experiencing VR.

“AR has evolved from a hype fest into a real tool for business,” Parker said. “AR has been on our radar since before VR with apps like Blippar. It’s been around for a decade, but never had this scale. You always had to download an app and then the consumer had to find your brand experience in that app. Now Apple has introduced this technology to a mass user overnight.”

While the VR is all about immersion and teleporting the user to Mexico, the AR experience focuses on interacting with the Hacienda Patrón. Users can see where the tequila is made and have a bartender guide them through tastings, while hopefully learning something new about tequila.

This AR experience will evolve over time, which is one of the additional benefits of AR. Parker said as the company receives feedback from users, it will iterate the app to incorporate new bottles like the Patron Laliqe crystal bottle that debuts this month with only 299 bottles made worldwide with a $7,500 price tag or the upcoming one liter art deco Silver bottle.

“AR is more modular and it’s a lower cost investment than an immersive VR experience, which we shot on location with 100 employees and drones,” Parker said. “This is all computer-generated, so we don’t have to produce anything.”

Parker said the brand’s highest-performing content is cocktails, so there’s also the opportunity to add cocktails to the AR app for holiday entertainment.

With Swarovski recently partnering with MasterCard’s Masterpass to allow users to purchase products inside of VR, Parker is interested in exploring how to turn new technology like AR, as well as its upcoming launch of Patrón on Amazon Alexa and Google Home, into direct business opportunities.

“If you’ve spent six months on Alexa or in an AR app learning about tequila and cocktails, that’s a prime time to order it,” Parker said. “We’re thinking about how to partner with vendors who can deliver that. We’ll see a shift to add incremental value as these technologies evolve from marketing into a new way to do business.”

In 2016, more people talked about Patrón than any other spirit brand globally, according to Parker, and the brand owns 70 percent of US tequila market.

Parker said the spirit business is similar to health and beauty in that it’s recession proof and ultimately comes down to a popularity contest.

“The opportunity with new technology like AR is in educating consumers more about the tequila they already know and love,” Parker explained. “It’s about staying relevant in a way that makes sense–and reinforcing why we’re a premium brand in the wake of a litany of new tequila offerings that come out regularly.”

The AR and VR experiences take users through the hand-crafted process of how the tequila is made at the hacienda. It’s a process that hasn’t changed since the brand was originally founded 30 years ago.

“We were the first brand to bring quality ingredients and a hand-crafted process to market,” Parker said. “There was no premium tequila before Patrón. We created the premium category–and we have to continue to grow that category.”

Rick And Morty’s Passion For Szechuan Sauce Was Social Media Gold For McDonald’s

McDonald’s Szechuan sauce is (sort of) back thanks to a cartoon rant, a whole lot of fans and one inspired chef. On April 1, after a two-year hiatus, Adult Swim surprised fans with the Season 3 premiere of its hit cartoon show Rick and Morty. Looping for four hours, the surprise stream pulled in three million unique viewers.

The show is a hit, especially among millennials, because of its twisted sense of humor and pop culture references. Audiences latched onto Rick’s drunken rant on the show about Szechuan sauce—offered for a limited time in 1998 to promote Disney’s Mulan.

“I’m not driven by avenging my dead family,” Rick says in the episode. “I’m driven by finding that McNugget sauce. I want that Mulan McNugget Sauce. That’s my series arc, Morty. If it takes nine seasons, I want that McNugget Szechuan sauce.”

Fans took to social media with Rick’s fictional cause, starting very real petitions and asking—nay, demanding—that McDonald’s bring the sauce back. The official Rick and Morty Twitter account challenged the brand to play along, to which it responded with a McNugget version of the show’s catchphrase, “Wubba lubba dub dub.”

The exchange caught the attention of McDonald’s corporate chef, Mike Haracz, who also happens to be an avid Rick and Morty fan. He tweeted, “I’ll see what I can do.” And see he did. After mailing Roiland a specially-packaged jug of Szechuan sauce, McDonald’s began tweeting images of Rick’s most-coveted dipping sauce, teasing a possible comeback. Three jugs were given away on Twitter—one of which ended up with former AListDaily contributer Robert Workman, whose subsequent bidding war made more than a few waves online.

On Sunday, McDonald’s officially announced the return of Szechuan sauce for one day only, as part of its buttermilk crispy tenders promotion. Each of the featured sauces received their own collectible poster and specially marked packaging for the occasion. Not surprisingly, the poster for Szechuan sauce has a distinct Rick and Morty aesthetic.

The sauce may not be back for good, but McDonald’s embraced its place in pop culture to be part of the story. We calculated the earned media value from posts about Szechuan sauce over the past 12 months ending October 1.

“Earned media” is the value of engagements a brand receives across channels as a result of their marketing efforts. To help quantify what the value of those engagements is worth, the Ayzenberg Group established the Ayzenberg Earned Media Value Index (AEMVI) and assigned a quantifiable dollar amount for marketing gains a brand receives from a campaign or individual engagement that includes social media networks and similar digital properties. (Editor’s note: AListDaily is the publishing arm of Ayzenberg Group. To read the updated AEMVI report reflecting the rapid changes in social, click here.)

Over the past year, the phrase “Szechuan sauce” has been mentioned 85,154 times on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. While the elusive condiment was mentioned over a thousand times on Facebook—mostly on McDonald’s or Adult Swim’s walls—Twitter was where the trend really took shape.

The official McDonald’s Twitter account created an interactive community around the request, responding to fans. Since the October 7 engagement was announced, Justin Roiland helped drive over 11,000 tweets about Szechuan sauce.

On Instagram, fans have anticipated the sauce’s return, while others paired the hashtag #RickandMorty and #SzechuanSauce together to share playful cosplay costumes, reactional memes, or videos.

Learn everything you need to know about turning insights into data at AList Sessions, a new invite-only event series for marketers, on October 26 in Los Angeles.

Go to sessions.alistdaily.com for more info.

This Startup Is Using VR For Mood-Changing Experiences

There are plenty of games and media platforms that hope to make audiences feel different emotions, but new start-up company Tripp is using VR to take the concept to a whole new level.

Tripp is focused on creating transformative digital experiences, with the first being a VR product that will combine visual and audio elements with simple meditation-like game elements to change the way a person feels. Users may use Tripp to relax after a long day at work, calm down after a difficult conversation or take it in the other direction by getting pumped before a workout or special event.

Nanea Reeves, CEO and co-founder of Tripp

The platform, which announced $4 million in Series A funding from venture capital firm Mayfield, is expected to launch in 2018 and will evolve to suit users’ needs, helping them to live more happy and effective lives.

“Essentially, we’re trying to go after a ‘flow state,’ and we’ve been doing this with video games for a long time,” gaming industry veteran Nanea Reeves, CEO and co-founder of Tripp, told AListDaily. “This is why some people find video games addictive, but we’re being more calculated about those interactions and stimulations—we’re using VR for stimulation rather than simulation. When you take all those elements and combine them with the immersion of VR, you can produce different responses.”

Playing With Emotions

Researchers have been exploring VR as a means of treating PTSD, rehabilitating substance abuse, managing pain and improving cognitive functions. Although Tripp makes no medicinal claims—it’s an entertainment experience—the data it collects about how VR impacts the mind could benefit these fields of research.

“It’s less of a game and more of an experience,” said Reeves. “We want everyone to be able to jump into a Tripp. Our challenge as a team is ‘can we get you to want to do it again?’ That’s our big focus for our launch product.”

The idea for Tripp dates back the early days of Oculus, when the headset was still in development. Reeves was an investor in the technology through her friendship with former Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe, who she worked with at the cloud gaming service Gaikai (which was subsequently bought by Sony to power its PlayStation Now service). To test the headset, Reeves and her friends made a VR solitaire game that took place in a haunted house, and that sparked a major interest in VR development.

“While we were testing out games, we started to notice that we felt like we were being taken away from our lives in a very positive way—it was refreshing,” said Reeves. “That got us looking at the effects of VR on the brain.”

However, Reeves recounted how it was at a casual gathering with Liz Lee, the former star of My Life as Liz on MTV, and her friends that the idea really started to come together. After playing with the VR equipment, Lee said, “Thank you for giving me an experience that’s as close to ecstasy without actually having to take it.”

Coincidentally, Tripp’s chief technology officer Andreja Djokovic studied neuroscience and pharmacology in college before deciding to become a game developer, so things seemed to align perfectly for the new company. But having come from the mobile gaming space, the entrepreneurs didn’t want to make casual VR games or do traditional experiences in virtual spaces. Instead, they wanted to stand out by doing something native to VR.

“As entrepreneurs, we’ve built a lot of foundational mobile games that were marketed in the US and worldwide, even in the early days of flip phones,” said Reeves. “It doesn’t matter what game you create—whether it’s on a flip phone or deeply immersive in VR—if it doesn’t have that very simple dynamic of being fun, you can really overdevelop it. It’s that little element that we’re taking out and we’re applying it to the very accessible interactivity we’ve integrated into Tripp.”

The company plans to debut Tripp in early 2018 with pop-up lounges at events, which should get people excited for the spring product launch. It will also provide the company with useful data leading up to the holiday season. Although the first Tripp experience will have elements of meditation, it won’t involve users staring at candles or quietly clearing their minds of distracting thoughts.

“With our experience, meditation is the beginning part of the journey,” Reeves explained. “We use meditation in a unique way, and the beginning of the journey gets you into a state of receptivity. Then the environment starts to transform in a way that’s calculated to stimulate the response or feeling that you’ve selected. The transformation is unique—we’re not trying to replicate anything that exists in the real world—it’s about using VR as a native application to do something that can only be done in VR. I expect that we will see mixed reality devices show up within the next ten years that can bring immersion into real-world environments more easily than VR headset do now. [But] for us, it’s less about VR and more about how we need that deep immersion.”

Reeves also explained how Tripp will keep users coming back for more.

“It has a music layer, a very specific sound layer, some personalization that makes your experience very different from mine, and you get a different trip every time,” she said. “As a standalone product, I think that it will be something that people will want to engage in regularly just to see what the next trip will be like. We will also have some interesting community aspects, and we will continue to layer in and evolve the product over time.”

Getting A Feel For The VR Marketplace

The Tripp experience is being built using the Unity Engine, which has worked well for the startup, and the development platform has also provided useful market data.

“We have a very realistic view of the VR market install base,” said Reeves. “For us, it’s less about that. If we can focus on the benefits of this service, making sure it does what we think we can get to.”

That data is crucial, as analysts and even those in the VR and gaming industries say that consumers are currently in the “gap of disappointment and disillusionment” for the technology. Reeves said that the key to navigating this era of VR is through preservation of capital and staying within means.

“I’m very grateful to Mayfield for giving us enough money to survive for much longer than we were originally asking for,” said Reeves. “With that goal in mind, we want make sure we have enough capital to get to market or have something that we can measure. That’s our main focus—we’re going to stay lean and mean as a team and stay laser-focused on our charter. Once we have something that we feel is marketable, it’s conceivable that by just focusing on the benefits of the service, we can start to create our own revenue streams by going direct to consumers with our experiences. We’ve been approached by a number of opportunities that go beyond the app store ecosystem, and I also think that our data will have some value. I think that if we can create an experience that changes the way that you feel, it will have a life of its own beyond the current two million monthly active users in VR.”

“I think that if we can create an experience that changes the way that you feel, it will have a life of its own beyond the current two million monthly active users in VR.” — Nanea Reeves, CEO and co-founder of Tripp

Tripp will be coming to multiple platforms, including mobile VR, and although there is are no plans to support AR at this time, it could adopt the technology later. Reeves also said that she believes that mobile VR, with its ubiquity, will ramp up in 2019.

“When we met with [Mayfield partner] Tim Chang, he got it right away,” said Reeves. “He actually said, ‘I’ve been waiting for someone to come in and do this pitch.’ We knew that he was our person to help us craft this early journey because you need someone who believes in you enough to do something so bold. I was very humbled by the support that he brought to this. I feel that this is the most exciting company I’ve ever been involved with, and I’ve been involved with a lot of great companies.”

‘Forza Motorsport 7’ Marketing Puts Its Cars Front And Center

Forza Motorsport 7 is now available exclusively for Xbox One and Windows 10, much to the delight of racing enthusiasts and car brands everywhere. To promote its latest racing game, Microsoft focused on the fast beauty of its vehicles.

Porsche even unveiled the 2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS during Microsoft’s E3 2017 press conference to promote Forza Motorsport 7—marking the first time a vehicle had been debuted at the show. Porche is also a sponsor of the game’s esports series, the Forza Racing Championship.

Peripheral manufacturer Scuf has teamed up with Porsche and Forza developer Turn 10 Studios to design a new limited edition controller bundle. Inspired by the Porsche 911 GT2 RS, the Scuf Forza Elite controller features an exclusive silver finish, red and black racing stripes, black carbon fiber accents and real Alcantara leather handles. The limited edition bundle comes with a Scuf-branded 1/43 scale model of the 2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS.

With its photorealistic graphics and down-to-the-stitch recreated car interiors, the Forza brand has made a name for itself among both car and video game fans. The series’ photo mode has resulted in some beautiful photos worthy of any magazine, and Forza holds regular competitions.

Motorsport lifestyle brand Hoonigan teamed up with Forza game developer Turn 10 Studios to bring digital versions of some of its most iconic vehicles into Forza games. Those who pre-ordered Forza Motorsport 7 digitally received the add-on for free in Forza Horizon 3 immediately and in Forza Motorsport 7 upon launch. The pack is also available for standalone purchase.

Cross-promotion included livestreams of the Hoonigan cars in-game, and the Forza Horizon 3 Hoonigan Car Pack was featured in episodes of Hoonigan’s Daily Transmission show.

Universal seized the opportunity to market one of its most popular franchises alongside Microsoft’s latest racing game. Ten hero cars from the Fast & the Furious film series were recreated in Forza Motorsport 7 in a special Fate of the Furious car pack. The pack is included with the Deluxe or Ultimate Editions of Forza Motorsport 7 and is also available for purchase on its own.

Two years ago, Microsoft released a spin-off game called Forza Horizon 2 Fast & Furious that served a standalone branded promotion, and the publisher’s relationship with Universal appears to be going strong.

On Monday, Xbox hosted a Forza Motorsport 7 launch party at Los Angeles’ Petersen Automotive Museum that featured competitions, pro racers, movie stars and more.

Microsoft has been showing off Mixer, its Xbox livestreaming service, with daily streams that include previews of upcoming games. For the launch party, professional drivers Tanner Foust and Josef Newgarden went head-to-head on the digital track. Foust is a former champion in both Global Rallycross and Formula Drift, and Newgarden was recently crowned IndyCar Champion. Both are fans of the game and served as consultants in the development of Forza Motorsport 7.

Newgarden set the bar high with his first lap time in the game and is challenging the Forza gaming community to do better. The Bounty Hunter Rivals event is going on now in Forza Motorsport 7 Rivals mode.

Speaking of competition, a series of video ads pitted gaming influencers against pro racers and celebrities, each discussing their strategies for winning (or lack thereof.) Participants included comedian Adam Carolla and professional driver Ken Block.

As of December 2016, the Forza game franchise has earned over $1 billion at retail, making it the best-selling racing franchise of this console generation, according to NPD. Over three million players joined the Forza Racing Championship alone.

Acer Brings Predator Gaming To ‘League Of Legends’ Esports Fans

Acer first entered into a marketing partnership with Riot Games last September to establish its Predator brand as the official monitor of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS). The company signed a renewal of this marketing initiative this past April, which will take the company through December 31, 2018.

As part of this partnership, Acer has launched its second consecutive scavenger hunt with a grand prize that will send a winner to China to watch the League of Legends World tournament in November.

Rich Black, vice president of marketing at Acer

Rich Black, vice president of marketing at Acer, told AListDaily that the first contest reached millions of people and generated over 80,000 unique entries involving multiple puzzles. An ecosystem quickly evolved around the content through super users that created chat groups to help solve the puzzles. This year’s contest has been expanded from 21 days to a full month.

“Since the new contest kicked off, we’re seeing a similar approach with super users becoming influencers within this scavenger hunt program,” Black said. “Our research showed that this audience loves to solve puzzles and go on little virtual journeys on the internet that are intellectually challenging, and this program was designed for them.”

Acer is engaging with this fan base across Twitter, while promoting the scavenger hunt across paid and organic digital mediums.

Acer’s Predator gaming brand, which is relatively new to the gaming space when compared to Dell’s Alienware or Asus’ Republic of Gamers, received a major boost after its sponsorship of last year’s LCS.

League of Legends has allowed us to grow our brand and increase brand awareness significantly,” Black explained. “We had an analysis done of our sponsorship of Worlds last year and ours was the No. 1 brand remembered coming out of all sponsors that participated, which validated what we’re doing. We now have a significant amount of awareness in the gaming market.”

One of the things Black quickly learned about esports sponsorship, especially with League of Legends, is that the fans really appreciate this type of support.

“This audience sees what you’re doing as legitimizing what they love,” Black said. “They understand that having sponsors like Acer putting dollars into LCS—it supports the players and teams and overall community.”

Acer is also a sponsor of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team, and Black said esports offers a refreshing approach to marketing partners.

“Riot is a fantastic partner,” Black said. “They came to us with an open book and asked how they could work with us more closely beyond the contract to help our brand succeed with their audience. They’re incredibly flexible to work with.”

Black pointed to the recent LCS event in Boston, where Riot gave Acer additional booth space for free to better maximize the brand’s reach with the traffic at the location.

“With traditional sports, you get a preset menu of what you can and cannot do, and you have to color within the lines at all times with them,” Black explained. “Esports is still a relatively new phenomenon, and they want to ensure you’re successful so that brands continue to invest and help them grow.”

And there’s no bigger League of Legends competition than the upcoming November Finals, which will pack 100,000 people into the Bird’s Nest in Beijing.

“This is the Super Bowl of esports,” Black said. “Last year the results for the Worlds had more people tuning in than watched the NBA Finals. For us, it’s about maximizing the market and our brand and making sure more people are exposed to it. The true value is to the millions of people watching with the digital transmission of the event.”

Black said sponsorships of esports teams are important, but they’re way more involved and more dependent on the teams performing well.

“By working directly with Riot, no matter what team is involved, our brand gets exposure at every event from the opening match to the finals,” Black said.

Acer is promoting its Predator brand’s performance through its esports activation. Black said the company’s thermal technology allows internal aeroblade fans and a liquid cooling system to overclock the machine and boost performance for games like League of Legends.

“All of the PC gaming brands are working with the same GPUs and CPUs, but it’s our thermal technology that differentiates us from the competition,” Black said. “We’re on the third generation of aeroblade technology and it’s important to keep evolving this technology.”

Esports Fans: Nielsen Report Reveals Who They Are And What They Do

Esports fans are passionate about video game competitions, but who are they really? Brands that invest in this lucrative and growing market may find themselves scratching their heads when it comes to looking beyond the myths and stereotypes.

Nielsen Esports‘ new report, “The Esports Playbook,” explores a number of theories around who esports fans are, from how they consume content to interests outside of video games.

“The key thing we want marketers to take away from this report is that esports is not a one-size-fits-all investment opportunity,” Nicole Pike, Nielsen Esports’ global research and product lead told AListDaily. “In the same way it’s not enough to tell someone to invest in ‘sports,’ making the leap into esports is a much more nuanced endeavor than it is often seen to be. Wanting to reach millennial males is not enough for esports to be the right fit—our goal is to help marketers understand if, where and how esports has a role in their sponsorship strategy.”

The report focuses on fans in the United States and Europe, with a separate analysis of Asian markets to follow later this year.

These Gamers Do More Than Game

It should come as no surprise that US esports fans spend an average of 8.2 hours per week playing video games, but the demographic also consumes other media, and a lot of it. Across the US, UK, France and German markets, fans spend an average of 4.5 hours per week consuming internet videos through websites like YouTube and 4.3 hours watching TV on an actual TV screen.

Facebook is the most popular social network among those surveyed at 57 percent, followed by Twitter at 42 percent. However, when it comes to following their favorite esports players or teams, fans turn to YouTube. (Nielsen Esports included traditional social media sites only, which excludes Twitch.)

Nielsen Esports found that only 17 percent of both esports’ fans leisure time and money is spent on gaming. Don’t assume they’re all male, either. While the demographic certainly skews male at 71 percent, nearly one in four female fans still stream esports content at least weekly.

Yes, Esports Fans Still Like Traditional Sports

Despite their love of video games, fans of competitive gaming were still more likely to attend a traditional sporting event in the last year, Nielsen found. In France, 24 percent of respondents have attended a live sporting event in the past 12 months, compared to 21 percent who have attended a live esports event in person.

Esports fans hold an interest in traditional sports across the board with soccer being the most popular in all surveyed regions except the US, where football leads the way. Nielsen noted that the most popular sports among respondents—soccer, football, boxing and motorsport—also tend to have their own popular video game franchises. (Madden NFL, NBA 2K and FIFA, just to name a few.)

Most Esports Fans Are Okay With Corporate Involvement

With the increasing number of brands entering the esports arena through sponsorship or other opportunities, there is a greater need to understand the demographic. It’s not enough to “do something millennial” and hope for the best.

“Brands entering the esports space, in whatever capacity, need to have done their due diligence and homework, to understand not only their own objectives but also the audience, their habits and their preferences,” Pike says in the report.

As with any activation, authenticity matters. Depending on which country you’re in, the type of brand matters, too. Thirty-three percent of French esports fans believe non-endemic brand activity in the space to be “inappropriate,” compared to Germany, the UK and US at 24, 22 and 15 percent, respectively.

US esports fans are much more open to the idea of a non-endemic sponsor, and a quarter of them told Nielsen that they are “extremely/very interested” in following esports sponsors on social media.

Understanding Social Speech Builds Better Relationships With Consumers

Kai Mildenberger, chief technology officer, [a]insights
Social speech, complemented by turning data into insights, is becoming more critical for marketers to employ and depend on when exploring new and emerging technologies, Kai Mildenberger, Ayzenberg’s chief technology officer said during the UCLA IS Associatesfall meeting.

Mildenberger spoke at the school’s Nanosystems Institute, detailing how to better build real relationships with consumers by understanding them through social speech. He was joined by fellow speakers Mohammed Mahbouba, UCLA Health’s chief data officer, William Miller, chief information officer for NetApp and William Doherty, senior solution architect for GE Digital.

The IS Associates is a UCLA-sponsored organization that dives deeper into managing and understanding information systems and effective leadership of IT functions, a sentiment Mildenberger echoed throughout the course of his half-hour presentation.

“The world of marketing has fundamentally changed with the advent of social media,” said Mildenberger. “Ever since Gutenberg’s 1440 printing press, marketers have worked with gatekeepers—the printers, publishers, TV networks—et al. Now, consumers are speaking freely and directly to one another. But they are doing it at petabytes an hour all over the world. So, today’s challenge is to understand and act upon this massive influx of social speech. Data sciences and AI are the only way to do this.”

Mildenberger says marketers can learn virtually everything from consumers using this kind of technology, including preferences, dislikes and passions.

“We can learn who they are, what they are talking about, and where they are,” he says. “This last point isn’t referencing geography, because that’s not as important in social media, but where they are in the social fabric. Social speech can help us know their personality and understand their base psychological makeup, which is the best way to predict future actions.”

Mildenberger concluded his talk by highlighting emerging trends that marketers should absolutely know for AI-driven technology right now.

“AI and data science are just a conduit to connect social science with what we are trying to do—inject brands into authentic conversations to gain influence with the ideal consumers,” said Mildenberger. “And, of course, measuring that influence is key to success.”

Learn everything you need to know about turning insights into data at AList Sessions, a new invite-only event series for marketers, on October 26 in Los Angeles. Mildenberger will be one of the featured speakers.

Go to sessions.alistdaily.com for more info.

Legacy Brand Offshoots Take Aim At Millennial Travelers

The millennial traveler is changing the hospitality industry by redefining expectations. Over 70 percent of millennials from the US, UK and Canada said that travel is an important part of who they are as a person, according to a November report by Airbnb. Thanks in part to younger consumers, the US travel market is estimated to reach $381 billion by the end of this year, according to Deloitte.

Travel and hospitality brands are catering to the millennial traveler by appealing to their digital, social and experience-driven priorities. The idea is to create more memories for less money. Convenience is another driver—Google found that 41 percent of millennial travelers have used a smartphone to shop for flights, and 27 percent have shopped for hotels this way.

Air France has launched a new airline called Joon aimed at millennials whose lifestyles revolve around digital technology.

“The airline has been designed to meet the expectations of a new generation of travelers,” says Air France on its official website. “On the schedule—flexibility, a personalized and tailor-made travel experience. Joon is for anyone who is looking for a new travel experience.”

Joon will offer access to in-flight entertainment that streams directly onto travelers’ smartphones, tablets and laptops. All seats will be equipped with USB ports for the charging of electronic devices. Joon will begin offering flights out of Paris in December.

Airbnb says that roughly 60 percent of all guests who have ever booked through its service have been millennials. When young consumers can just as easily crash at a stranger’s house than book a luxury hotel, hospitality brands are feeling the pressure.

Marriott also created its own millennial-focused brand in 2014 called Moxy Hotels. A boutique hotel with the “social heart of a hostel,” Moxy offers free WiFi and social experiences.

“[Moxy is] a brand that was created strictly for the millennial traveler,” Catherine Leitner, senior director of buzz marketing at Marriott International, told AListDaily. “It’s led by a young, fresh, female executive who really has her finger on the pulse of what that traveler is looking for—from hotel and room designs to public spaces—and the price point makes it reasonable and attainable.”

The youth-focused hotel chain utilizes social influencers and branded content to foster its image of having fun away from home.

Cruise line Royal Caribbean has funded a guided tour company called GoBe that takes exploration beyond just port of calls. The offshoot is an answer to the idea that 80 percent of guided tour bookings are made offline, creating an opportunity to build a brand for those who don’t.

Using slogans like “GoBe adventurous” and “GoBe romantic,” the brand is able to cater to the world traveler market across age groups.

For the millennial traveler, GoBe is launching a mobile app, plans to work with social influencers as well as travel and tourism personalities and has adjusted its booking availability to meet last-minute demands.

“Millennials plan things out with much shorter notice,” GoBe managing director Billy Campbell told AListDaily. “You can go on the site and get something booked for tomorrow or the next day, but [millennials] want to be able to book a tour today.”

Why Audiences Get Emotional Over Branded GIFs

Advertising Week’s Attention Summit opened with Twitch’s senior vice president of client strategy Anthony Danzi repeating the adage of how the average human attention span has dwindled from 12 seconds in 2000 to about eight seconds today—which compares unfavorably to a goldfish’s nine-second attention span.

“We are all in the business of attention, and that business is getting more difficult in the age of content saturation and platform proliferation,” Danzi said during the presentation’s opening remarks.

Whether or not the comparison to goldfish is true, the challenges are real, and brands need to find ways to quickly and unintrusively convey messages to audiences. Tenor’s chief business officer Jason Krebs, who also spoke at the summit, believes he has the perfect solution—and it’s something that you see on just about every platform, from text messages to social media: the GIF.

“GIFs have changed how the world communicates,” Krebs said during his presentation while celebrating the 30th anniversary of the image format. Emotional communication has evolved from simple text-based expressions such as “lol” to short looping animations clipped from shows, movies and events that fully capture feelings. Krebs explained that visual expression has created a fundamental shift, as inserting nonverbal communications into mobile conversations gives people a feeling that’s akin to having face-to-face personal conversations.

Tenor is the largest GIF keyboard for mobile users and social platforms, and as the animated format has become the leading means of communication for many users, the platform has come to describe itself as “the world’s largest emotional search engine.”

“People are using our GIFs to express their emotions, feelings and thoughts in text messages, chat profiles and social media all around the world,” Krebs told AListDaily. “We like to say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but a GIF can tell a story. People are using these visuals to communicate with friends, family, coworkers and social audiences in more nuanced, enhanced and flavorful ways than ever before possible—better than text or emoji.”

Jason Krebs, chief business officer at Tenor

Krebs noted that it’s not that people haven’t been using GIFs in the past 30 years, but the rise of mobile has significantly changed the game.

“The prevalence of people communicating more often on mobile devices has unlocked the capability of the GIF,” Krebs explained. “Tenor comes in and makes it a real platform for consumers to send these rich thoughts and feelings, but we also enable businesses to partake in the platform.”

By platform, Krebs is referring to the social networks themselves in addition to marketers and advertisers. Although emoji is still in great use, and Apple is making them more animated, Krebs said that comparing a GIF to an emoji wasn’t dissimilar to comparing text to a movie. Both communicate thoughts and feelings, but one has a richer, more visually appealing format. Furthermore, unlike other media, direct messages usually don’t go ignored or overlooked.

“The beauty of GIFs is that it is being sent from one person to another,” said Krebs. “Everybody is certainly being bombarded with more information, but there isn’t anyone who doesn’t pay attention when they get a text message. They are read 100 percent of the time.

“You don’t skip it, not look at it, or not pay attention to what’s going on because somebody is sending you a message and you’re going to reply to it. That’s what’s unique about this opportunity. It’s not just a media consumption opportunity—this is a communications platform that has never been open before to marketers. Now we’re able to serve these messages with one-to-one communications, and consumers are opting in to this.”

As an example, Krebs said that a brand like Coca-Cola could connect with a person looking to express happiness with a smile, given its slogan, ‘have a Coke and a smile.’ That’s just one of thousands of creative insertions and placements advertisers are afforded with.

Tenor partnered with NBC to promote the premiere of Will & Grace using GIFs, and it’s currently working with Paramount and AwesomnessTV on similar branded content promotions.

“We want to give IP owners the opportunity to put their conversation out in the marketplace—the concept that’s unique to them—and give their fans an opportunity to use them,” said Krebs. “In one way, it’s simply people consuming [the IP], but it’s [also] giving Will & Grace fans the opportunity to communicate using clips from the show. It’s been incredibly well received, and more marketers are picking up on this idea of putting their content into GIF form so consumers can share it.”

Krebs cited a UC Berkley study that found 27 distinct human emotional states, up from six in a prior study. So, representing this range of emotions is more important than ever, and search is the key aspect. Although Will & Grace fans likely sought out related GIFs in anticipation of the show’s premiere, Krebs said that a large majority of people who discovered these branded GIFs by searching for emotions.

“When people are searching for ‘happy,’ ‘fun’ or ‘excited’—anything that they’re looking to communicate—then they will appear organically within the search result, and that’s when consumers can choose to share,” said Krebs. On Tenor, similar to Google, brands can choose to have their content rise up as search results organically or they can pay to have featured at the top of search results.

Although there are some obvious emotional connections brands should pursue, like choosing fear-related words to promote content for the movie IT, Krebs said that there is a multitude of less obvious considerations too.

“There are things people can do—whether it’s little moments of the shows or topics that they’re looking to achieve,” said Krebs. If someone typed in ‘sad,’ I think you could imagine a travel company telling someone not to be sad and it’s time to take a trip somewhere. There are lots of ways to turn certain keywords or clever opportunities into the turning point for what your brand’s premise is or what its product looks to solve. The beauty of what we have is that there’s no harm or foul if you miss that tone because the brand isn’t paying on an impression basis. It’s only has to pay with the GIF is shared.”

“The beauty of what we have is that there’s no harm or foul if you miss that tone because the brand isn’t paying on an impression basis.” — Tenor chief business officer Jason Krebs

To illustrate which feelings are searched the most, Tenor created an emotional graph. However, Krebs says that it doesn’t mean that less popular terms won’t be just as effective, since the platform can both fulfill and create demand.

“It doesn’t have to be as literal as someone typing in the word ‘yes,’” said Krebs. “We’ve got a lot more opportunities with words that are synonymous to yes and other things that we’ve linked with those terms. We’re not afraid of running out of opportunities to make matches between marketers, content owners and brand imperative and what consumers are looking for.”

For now, it doesn’t seem like brands can make too many GIFs to service different emotions, but Krebs said that marketers tend to know when their campaigns resonate with audiences.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten to any place where enough is enough,” Krebs said. “The greatest thing about marketers and advertisers is that they know when they’re speaking to their core audience well and when they’re making advances. We would know and give them feedback if images are not being shared. So yes, I think the sky is the limit for the overall community, but we don’t think that everything anybody does is perfection. That’s why we’re here to help manage the process and steer it in the right direction.”

To mark this year’s Advertising Week, Tenor released the top 10 GIFs that had increased in use in New York City during the event, and it looks like the Big Apple was in a very positive mood. “Thumbs up” GIFs saw a 2,725 percent increase in use, followed by a 1,600 percent increase in “yass” and a 1,050 percent increase in “sick.” Additionally, terms such as “party,” “let’s do this” and “mind blown” also saw significant increases.

“We’re pumped about having our finger and attention tuned to human emotion and how it’s being communicated,” said Krebs. “The opportunity to match the emotional state of a consumer has not been an opportunity for marketers before. Now that we have this, it’s unlocking the greatest opportunity for marketers in a generation.”